PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe this week rolled out the government’s legislative agenda, but did not make any reference to the long-awaited revision of media and security legislation aimed at granting citizens greater liberties.
Officially opening the first session of the eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe on Tuesday, the President noted that the new legislative assembly would be seized with the task of aligning the existing pieces of legislation to give legal under-pinning to new constitutional structures and institutions spelled out in the country’s new supreme law.
The ZANU-PF leader emphasised legislative interventions mainly in the economic and social spheres, but was mum on political reforms.
According to the President, the country’s indigenisation laws would be revised and strengthened, while labour laws would be harmonised.
Efforts would be made in the education sector to ensure that his dream of establishing a State university in each province is realised through Bills to establish the Gwanda State University as well as the Marondera University of Agricultural Science and Technology.
In the health sector, the Health Services Act, the Medical Services Act, the Public Health Act and such other pieces of legislation would be amended.
President Mugabe said the fight against corruption would be intensified, but questions about the Executive’s sincerity lingered after only members of the Anti-Corruption Commission and not Cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament were asked to declare their assets.
There was no specific mention of the revision of Urban Council’s Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) that has previously been used to shut down newspapers, the Broadcasting Services Act that has been manipulated to give the State a monopoly on television services as well as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) which activists say has been abused to block political parties, trade unions and residents associations to freely assemble.
Dhewa Mavhinga, senior researcher Zimbabwe/Southern Africa, Human Rights Watch, regretted the failure to zero in on media and security issues.
“All progressive policies should be founded on democracy, rule of law and human rights respect. It is unfortunate that President Mugabe did not prioritise this important foundation, we hope this oversight will soon be corrected and Parliament will move swiftly to revise or amend such laws as POSA and AIPPA and to guarantee fundamental freedoms including media freedoms and the active promotion of labour rights,” said Mavhinga.
The Harare Residents Trust (HRT) said its reading of the matter is that in cases where the constitution is specific, the Act’s provisions are to be amended to comply with the former as it is supreme.
“For example, Section 103 which dealt with the election of mayors was overtaken by the Constitution’s Section 265, and 274 which took away the appointed councillors and outsiders as mayors. Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe made attempts to address the question of notification of police on public gatherings, and the manner the grievances by organisers are handled, which now brings aboard the Magistrates Court. While the President might not have specifically mentioned these issues, they remain part of the legislative business to ensure that all Acts of Parliament are in line with the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” said HRT.
Nyasha Nyakunu, the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe chapter’s senior programmes officer said while they would have expected the President to make specific reference to the revision of media laws, they nevertheless remain encouraged by the fact that he spoke of the need to realign the country’s laws to the new Constitution.
“We will continue to work with the Parliamentary Committee (on media and communication), decision-makers and policymakers to ensure that this is realised,” said Nyakunu.